Fannie Lou Hamer was born in 1917 in Montgomery, Mississippi, the youngest of twenty children. She died in 1977, after years of Civil Rights activism. She is mainly known for working to get the vote for Blacks in Mississippi. In 1963, she was one of the organizers of the Mississippi Freedom Summer. It brought Black and White students from across the nation to work on voting rights for Blacks in the South and Mississippi, in particular.
The Freedom Summer led to the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Party that attended the Democratic National Convention in 1964. There, a compromise was offered to seat two members of the Freedom Party, as long as it didn’t include Hamer.
In a speech that she is known for, she said, “We didn’t come all the way to compromise from what we’ve gotten. We didn’t come all the way for two seats when all of us is tired. All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” That phrase dominates her tombstone today.
In 1961, she was sterilized without her knowledge or consent by a white Doctor in Mississippi as part of a program to reduce the number of poor Blacks in Mississippi. A year later she went to register to vote, in spite of threats to her life. She said later that, “I guess if I had any sense, I would have been scared, but what is the point of being scared? The only thing they can do is kill me, and it kind ‘a seem they’ve been trying to do that since I was born, a little bit at a time.”
An old spiritual makes the statement: “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” One of the people who we, who are believers, believe will be there is Fannie Lou Hamer. She gave God the glory at every turn of her life. The question for each of us is what have we done in our life to help others, as God requires and, therefore, when the roll is called up yonder, will you be there? If I was to write a letter to Fannie Lou Hamer I would like to say:
“Dear Ms. Hamer, it’s been years since you left us to go to your rest, and here we go again. These Republicans are again trying to keep Black folks from voting in a number of states. Ms. Hamer, their tactics are different but they are designed to be just as deadly. Also, today, the same forces that sterilized you are still overly concerned about women’s sexual and health. Today, even though we have elected a Black president, John Lewis, one of your fellow Civil Rights activists, says that is not the realization of our dream but just a down payment on that dream.
“They owe us much more for the years of pain, denial of rights, free and near free labor. Our dream is simple and you stated it well at the 1964 DNC Convention where you said, ‘We want to live as decent human beings.’
“Ms. Hamer the violence you suffered at the hands of the police in that jail, in June 1969, till you nearly died is still going on. Today we are watching a trial of a 17 year young Black man named Trayvon Martin who was shot to death for no apparent reason. However, the Republicans are promoting laws that essentially say ‘If you believe that someone Black looks like they might be a criminal, by your standards, and you are fearful of him/her, you can shoot and kill with impunity. You can call it self-defense, as long as you are not Black and say you feel afraid.’
“It’s almost like a man going bear hunting. You take your gun and you go out hunting, and if you can show that the bear scratched you, even if he was defending against the armed man’s declared intent to kill, it’s the bear’s fault that he was killed.
“Ms. Hamer, we thank you for your sacrifice and we apologize that we have not done all we could to fulfill your dream, but their forces are strong and with their practice and experience of keeping us down, going back to 1619, we are still struggling. Yes, we are sick and tired of being sick, and tired of being treated as less than human. Today, we have courts with justices who, like those in your day, have no problem making decisions based, not on the law, but on political and racist reasons. By the way, the judges include a Black guy named Clarence Thomas from Pinpoint, Georgia.
“Ms Hamer things have changed but there is still a lot of work to do, thank you for a life of inspiration we will never forget you.
Still in the struggle. – Joe”